“Just because you can 3D-print something doesn’t mean you should.”
Mike Vasquez, founder of digital manufacturing and 3D printing consultancy 3Degrees, guides companies looking to add 3D printing to their toolbox, and he’s quick to offer a reality check on the technology’s possibilities and limitations. “Just because you can 3D-print something doesn’t mean you should,” he says. “If you’re telling me that you want to recreate these screws and just use 3D printing for no justification, then that’s a challenge.”
Vasquez offers these questions for companies to answer in evaluating whether and where to incorporate 3D printing:
1. Are you saving time to production so you can get more product to the market sooner?
2. Will 3D printing allow you to reduce your inventory, creating more of an on-demand supply chain and saving on spare-part storage and maintenance costs?
3. How long is it going to take, really? “I think people underestimate the work that goes into post-processing,” Vasquez says. “If we’re talking about metals, you likely need to heat-treat or stress-relief that part afterward.” Plus, he says, a secondary heat treatment could be required, taking several days in some cases. SLM North America’s Richard Grylls notes: “If you imagine printing in layers of 30 microns and you’ve got a build height of up to 350 mm, depending on the laser run time and the amount of parts you’re building, it can take days to build a set of components on a build cycle.”